St John Karp

Ramblings of an Ornamental Hermit

Night Gallery (1969)

Night Gallery title card.

This TV movie comes to us all the way from a French bum model who posted this on his Instagram from where it was reported to me. Just to be clear, I do not follow any bum models, and the way you know I’m telling the truth about that is because I don’t know how. In my hardcore dedication to Luddism I have no social media accounts, which sort of works out because other people tell me about the best bits anyway and thus I can maintain my tenuous grip on the 21st century. All I’m missing out on are the boring posts, the emotional manipulation, the calculated addiction, the FOMO and its ensuing depression, and the senseless waste of hours of my life. Granted, I also miss out on the bum models, but if I ever get really desperate I can just place two avocados together and pretend they’re the buttocks of a leper.

Rod Serling.

Night Gallery (1969) is the movie pilot that preceded a two-and-a-half year TV series of the same name. It’s an anthology horror movie created and presented by Rod Serling, so I think we can expect a lot of Twilight Zone style shenanigans. We open with Serling walking us through an art gallery where each painting is going to tell a story. But will any of the stories tell us what happened to his upper lip? It looks like it was bitten off by a stray dog.

An old man with wonky eyes.

The first segment concerns this elderly painter who’s at death’s door. He’s being plagued by a profligate nephew who’s come out of the woodwork to collect on the old man’s will when he kicks it.

The nephew pulling a sneery face.

Of course, not being the type of snappy chap who politely waits for other people to snuff it, the nephew nudges his uncle along a bit by sitting him next to a window with a fatal breeze. He ventilated that geezer to death. I love that this nephew is supposed to be a young playboy type but somehow has that 1970s face that made everyone look 45 years old. He does have a very punchable expression, though, so points for casting.

The old man in the painting rises from the crypt.

But one of the old man’s paintings has come to life and depicts the old man rising from the crypt and coming to GET his nephew. This drives the nephew to distraction. He’s innocently trying to quaff the old man’s wine cellar and slobber all over some painted floozy and his sloppy make-outs get interrupted by a cursed painting! The nerve! Eventually he’s so freaked out he falls down a flight of steps and his neck breaks like a Kit-Kat. Damn it, this happened in last week’s movie too. Can people please just stop dying by stairs? Although compared to dying by a gentle waft of air, I suppose stairs are at least more dramatic.

“I want to see something. Trees. Concrete. Buildings. Grass. Aeroplanes. COLOUR.”

Next we have a treat — the second segment stars none other than Joan Crawford, down on her luck and forced to play in a Rod Serling TV movie, although with the strange good luck to be directed by a very young Steven Spielberg. Crawford plays a blind rich woman who wants to pay someone to give her his eyes, even though they will only allow her to see for eleven or twelve hours until her body rejects the operation. Crawford gets easily the campest moment of the movie. I think this must have been Joanie during her “DOOOON’T FUCK WITH ME, FELLAS” phase because she screams “COLOOOOOUR!” with all the same vigour you’d use to emasculate the board of the Pepsi-Cola Company.

Some sad-looking schmoe.

Crawford’s donor is this sad-act who needs to pay off some gambling debts, so he’s selling his eyes for $9,000. Eh, wot? Come on mate, you coulda taken Joan for way more than nine grand. She’s a squillionaire, and they’re your eyes. That’s got to be worth at least a cold mil.

Joan Crawford in a blackout.

The Serling magic kicks in when, after the operation, Crawford regains her sight moments before the entire city is plunged into an all-night blackout. She gets to see dick all. Parker pointed out the rather nice direction here where we’ve been able to see everything up until Crawford gets her sight back, and then all of a sudden we’re as blind as she is in the blackout. All we see is Crawford in a limitless black space. All right, young Spielberg, not bad!

A shady-looking fascist with a scar on his right temple.

Another of Serling’s favourite subjects comes back to haunt us in the third segment, which features a former Nazi on the run in South America. He’s grown a big moustache and is telling everyone he’s a friendly balloon-animal artist from Hungary or some nonsense like that. I keep thinking of that Simpsons episode where Mr. Burns dresses up in the huge moustache and says, “My name is Mr. Snrub, and I come from… someplace far away. Yes, that’ll do.”

The Nazi experiences a psychedellic moment.

The former Nazi becomes obsessed with a painting of a man rowing a boat in some mountains. He’s tortured by his past as a torturer, despite which he has no regrets about any of it so I’m not sure why he wants to go fishing forever. Seems like he’d want to go back to the good ol’ tortury days. The director, after dropping a healthy amount of acid, leads us on this space odyssey where the Nazi pictures himself rowing on the puke-green river.

The Nazi gets trapped in the wrong painting.

As the authorities close in on him, the Nazi runs up to the boat painting and begs to be in it. But little does he know that the boat painting was taken away and replaced with a painting of a man in a concentration camp being crucified — and now he’s stuck in it forever. Dun dun dunnnn.

The Skinny

Joan Crawford having a fit.

“You must learn to live with a little pain, my dear. It is what the world is made of.”

Pretentious and heavy-handed, like anything Rod Serling did, but damned if this isn’t a boatload of fun. It’s like a spin-off of The Twilight Zone, and there’s a lot worse things to be than that. Plus Joan Crawford and Steven Spielberg! It seems like you can always get a good bargain by hiring a star who’s on the way down or a star who’s on the way up. It worked for Ed Wood. Hell, I should make a movie, I feel like I cracked the da Vinci code here.